Safety should always be at the forefront when moving slabs around a warehouse, fabrication shop or on the jobsite. Whether transporting the large, heavy pieces of stone or quartz manually or with a forklift or crane, following safety procedures is a must. Unfortunately, there are still one too many reported cases of fatalities or serious injuries often due to complacency when moving slabs. The Natural Stone Institute does an excellent job of providing free instructional resources on this subject. The following are several key points outlined in those documents. 

Moving slabs with forklifts

Before beginning, it is important to know the weights of the bundles and slabs that are being moved with the forklift to ensure they do not exceed the equipment’s rated capacity. There should be a minimum of two people required when moving a load, the lift operator and a spotter. Loads should be lifted slowly, and observe a trial tensioning to verify balance. Slabs should also be inspected for cracks or fissures, and never lift wet slabs. When preparing a slab for lifting, it is extremely important to avoid tipped or dropped slabs. The following steps can assist in lifting the slab successfully and without injury: • Use a wedge to separate the slab from the stack and allow space for a clamp or cables to be set. The spotter should stand at the end of the slabs while inserting the wedge, staying outside the “fall shadow” • The spotter should wait until the slabs are stable and the forklift or crane is in place before stepping in front of the slab to connect the clamp or cables • The operator should not raise the slab until the spotter is clear at least arms distance and directs the driver to raise the slab

Once the slab is on the forklift, there are several dangerous scenarios that need to be avoided. To prevent a person from being struck by dropped material, the following precautions can be taken:

  • Keep lower side of load within 10 inches of the ground
  • Be aware of the “fall shadow” and stay clear

To prevent a person from being struck by or caught between a load, the following measures should be taken:

  • Stay in the safe zone, arm’s length away from the load keeping one hand in contact with the load
  • Always stay in the driver’s line of site
  • Stay in sight of the driver, give the driver instructions as you guide the load

To prevent a person from being struck by a forklift or load, the following steps should be followed:

  • Stay out from between the vehicle and the load
  • Do not walk directly in front of the vehicle
  • Be aware of and inspect the route to be taken and anticipate vehicle turns and changes in direction
  • Stay out from between the vehicle and the load
  • Do not walk directly in front of the vehicle
  • Be aware of and inspect the route to be taken and anticipate vehicle turns and changes in direction
  • Maintain a minimum distance of 20 feet of clearance from customers or non-involved employees on all sides of forklift and load

To avoid a dropped load, the following procedures should be followed:

  • Never lift more than one slab or bundle at a time
  • Lift slowly and wait two to three seconds before completing the lift to allow the load to settle
  • Always inspect the cables before beginning a move. Discard worn/damaged cables
  • Never allow the clamp to drag
  • Make certain the path of travel is clear of bumps or other obstacles
  • Never raise the lower edge of the load higher than 10 inches from floor surface

When setting the slab or bundle down, the following are measures to be taken to ensure a person is not struck by or caught between a load:

  • Never stand between a load and frame or a support it will be set against
  • Stay in sight of the driver, give the driver instructions as you guide the load
  • Stay an arm’s length to the side of the load

Removing slabs from open top containers

When unloading slabs from open top containers, here are a few considerations. If a saw blade binds on the wood while cutting, this is an indication that a bundle is trying to lean as pressure is released. Stop work and evaluate where the pressure is coming from to ensure the material is properly secured. If the wood vibrates more than normal, this is an indication that the wood is loose somewhere (normally on the vertical supports). Stop work to evaluate where the boards may not adequately be secured/braced. Falling is a hazard to avoid when removing a cable or cross bars, as well as rolling back the top. Several safety steps to be taken, include using an appropriate ladder or moving the ladder to avoid reaching. When removing the bracing, it is important to avoid being struck by tipping or falling slabs. Key safety measures include using a saw to remove the bracing from front to back and from right to left, as well as using chains or straps to secure unbalanced loads. To avoid a strain while removing a sample box, use proper material handling procedures. When using a crane to extract slabs, a hazard is posed of someone being struck by dropped material. To avoid this situation, no one should be allowed in the container while the crane is in operation.

The two tasks and safety measures for each outlined in this article are only two of many available at:

The information provided from the Natural Stone Institute is written as a general guideline. The Natural Stone Institute and its Member companies have neither liability nor can they be responsible to any person or entity for any misunderstanding, misuses or misapplication that would cause loss or damage of any kind, including loss of rights, material or personal injury, or alleged to be caused directly or indirectly by the information contained in this document.